"Spirit of the Chumash" is the inventive Illusions Theatre Company of Ojai's fifth annual tribute to local American Indian legends. It can be seen in Libbey Bowl, a lovely facility in downtown Ojai, Friday and Saturday nights.
It is a family show in the best possible sense, featuring a cast of more than 30 actors, singers, dancers and musicians, from tots to at least one grandparent, and with potential appeal to all ages.
Various combinations of cast members enact a series of stories drawn from Chumash folk tales, ranging in importance from the creation of man (and why we have fingers, not paws) to why we don't often see foxes and herons having dinner together. Like most folklore, some of it is didactic, some is simply fun.
The show, under the direction of Elizabeth Ridenour, is brief enough at 70 minutes that youngsters in the audience won't get too restless. Still, there's a lot of entertainment involved in the production.
Like other American Indian cultures--and Warner Bros. cartoon animators--the Chumash evidently regarded the coyote as a crafty, comic character. In these stories, the animal is outsmarted by fauna, including a beetle (Chumash coyotes apparently ate beetles), a woodpecker and a family of even more crafty skunks.
The official program is coy about who plays which roles--perhaps to encourage a feeling of equality among the members of the cast. Suffice it to say that the level of performance is up to the needs of the production.
The company is more generous in doling out credit to the musicians--flutist and musical director Seabury Gould, percussionist Sartuse and synthesist Steve Emery supply atmosphere for the entire production, and a woman who calls herself Ayanna sings an original composition at the beginning of the show.
In addition to the skits, there are a couple of dance numbers choreographed by Kelly Lamar and Karen Moncharsh and with music by the band. In one, paintings on a cave wall impressively come to life.
Though the musical and performance aspects of the show are fine, what may impress most is the variety of excellent costumes supplied by the Illusions-affiliated K&L Design. They do wonders, creating animals and birds, a bear, a couple of condors and a whole pack of wolves.
WHERE AND WHEN
"Spirit of the Chumash" plays Friday and Saturday night at 7:30 at Libbey Bowl, in the back of Libbey Park in Ojai. The park is at Ojai Avenue and Signal Street. Admission is $6 for adults, $3.50 for senior citizens and children under 12. For information, call 646-3533.